I initially put this as a comment on yesterday’s post of “Hey Library! You’re Now in the Marketing Department!!“, but thought it actually deserves its own posting.
I’ve had some “off-line” conversations with other law librarians at big firms and there is a question that has been raised whether the people that have run the law libraries at firms over the past 15-20 years (basically the baby-boomers that are about to retire) have screwed the law library field (add in the law library associations to this, too).

Whenever the law library gets progressive and starts promoting new ideas, those ideas get spun off into their own departments and the creative law librarians leave the library field to join these departments. Things like Knowledge Management, Competitive Intelligence, and even some Marketing and IT ideas that were created in the library now exist outside the library. So it seems that the general direction the law firm libraries have taken in the past 15-20 years is to get us back to what we were doing in the 1980’s.

In the past 15-20 years when the law firm IT and Marketing departments carved themselves out “C-Level” positions, what were those running the libraries doing?? Law Library departments got passed up and never got included in the “C-Party” and now we are having issues of where do we fit on the company ladder when we don’t have that C-Level person. Perhaps the biggest injustice was that we allowed the IT department to claim the title of “Information Officer”, when it usually isn’t “Information” they are in charge of, but rather “Technology”.  If the law library isn’t the “Information” center, then what is it?? Now the law library gets moved under some other department, many times run by someone with no clue on how a law library operates, solely because there is no other place to the library on the firm’s org chart.

Moves like the one MoFo did to push the law library under marketing, coupled with the fact that many seem to be okay with the move, shows that the law library has fallen a great deal in stature under its existing leadership. I’m tired of hearing that I have to move away from the library and into Knowledge Management or Marketing or IT in order to succeed. It is time for those of us in the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ generations who are about to take the reins of the law library field to reevaluate what the law library does.  It is time to stop spinning off all of our great accomplishments and letting others take credit for what we’ve created. It is time to change the way the law library is run and viewed by those with whom we work. To steal a certain political party line, it is time for those coming into library management to come up with a type of law library that allows us to declare:

“This Isn’t Your Daddy’s Law Library!”

  • I have to say, I absolutely agree, Greg! You rock on this one! Seize the day, and take the heights, librarians of tomorrow!

  • You write: In the past 15-20 years when the law firm IT and Marketing departments carved themselves out "C-Level" positions,…

    I don't work in a law firm library, so what's a "C-Level" position?

  • Spot on, Greg! Revolution, evolution . . . the time has come. With the current economic and staffing crises, there has not been a more crucial time for us to re-envision and cosolidate. Kudos!

    – John DiGilio, the iBraryGuy

  • So what directions should law libraries be moving in?

  • Excellent points Greg. Reminds of a few years ago at a local law library event, I overheard some colleagues talking about records management becoming part of the library and the librarians getting to be part of that in their firms. I left thinking I was missing the boat. But after some thought, I realized, no, I am not a glorified clerk–I am a professional librarian and researcher and tha records management can stay with the clerks. We are capable of finding information professionally in a fraction of the time that the others cannot. And I don't mean google.

  • Salryman – C-Level = "Chief-Level", like "Chief Information Officer", or "Chief Marketing Officer".

    Jim – Libraries have to move in a direction that promotes (you could even use the term 'markets') what it does. We've pushed the envelope in the past with great ideas like KM or CI, but we've tended to want to get back to what we think our 'core' function is – providing basic legal research and research collections for the law firm. I think that approach has hurt the way our peers within our firms view us. Instead of being trail blazers, we're viewed as 'those nice folks down in the library.'
    So, to answer your question, I'd say that libraries need to be more vocal in what they do; be determined to take on a bigger role in the law firm environment; and stop letting others pass us by on where we fit within the overall organization.

  • Greg you state: IT claims the title of "Information Officer", when it usually isn't "Information" they are in charge of, but rather "Technology".

    You need to spend a day with me. Perhaps you will change your mind. I'm dealing with information not technology most of the day.

    I agree, Librarians need a bigger role. They are a great resource that is underutilized in many law firms.

    -Scott (CIO – claiming Information officer)

  • Jo

    "…records management can stay with the clerks" … As a Librarian and a Records Manager I have to disagree. Records management is not about putting paper in boxes, it is about managing information. Librarians need to think about all of the potential sources of intellectual capital in their firms and how they can leverage it. We need to think more openly about sources of information and how best to match them with users and what technology can do to make this happen. This is the type of progressive thinking that will get us to the “C” level .

  • Scott,

    I'll play Devil's Advocate here and say that (at least the IT side of) the CIO's job is to handle 'data' and the 'technology' that distributes the data. Granted, the end result may become information once the end-user produces a report, or list from the database, but essentially it is data and the front-end technology that IT, and to some extent, KM supports.

    The Library on the other hand is the department that researches information (using your technology or external technology such as Westlaw), analyses that information and provides our end user with a result that has not only gone through the 'technology' part of information, but has also gone through the 'human' ability to analyse what is and what is not good information.

    So, we may be talking semantics here but if the Information Technology profession had initially been called the "Data Technology" profession, there'd be a lot of Chief Data Officers walking around right now.

    Not to fear, though, I'd be happy with Chief Library Officer. 😉

  • Anonymous

    Is you degree in marketing?

    Do you want to work 24/7?

    Just some thoughts for you X & Y librarians.

  • Anonymous

    In IT, the "I" cannot be separated from the "T". Neither has a meaningful existence without the other.

    If the goal of every law firm department is to enhance the practice of law, then the key is integration among those departments.

    At our firm, we pull all the resources together to do just that. So the library works closely with the Marketing, IT, and Records Management teams. Since each team has its own expertise, we exist as separate units but work together to further our firm's objectives. This approach allows us to learn from one another and makes a holistic approach possible.

    Of course, this only works if the firm recognizes the value of each team and if necessary, shuffle things around to make it work– not unlike private industries re-tooling their units to enhance production during WWII– only this time our enemy is the economy.

  • I'm going to have to agree with Jo on the Records Management working better under the Library rather than leaving it for clerks to handle. After the Enron issues, Records Management became something much larger than "storing files." New laws, such as Sarbanes Oxley (SOX), combined with e-discovery rules created a situation where the clerks were just not capable of handling the responsibilities that the Records Dept had to take on. So, e-discovery and electronic records keeping tended to go to the Technology side of the firm, while physical records went to the library. That's not to say that eventually those that were in Records before the big shift at the turn of the millennium won't eventually take the department back once they have the expertise in place.
    FYI — conflicts is another group that seemed to have come over to the library about the same time, for many of the same reasons.

  • Anonymous

    Well said Jo. A thoughtfully and well run law library and carefully structured records' management can benefit the firm in loss prevention. Interacting with the management committee on loss prevention helps in building that path to C-level. If we don't evolve with the changing field of law, we will be lost.

  • To Anonymous (re:Degrees)

    No, our degrees are called Masters in Library Science. That means most of us have a Bachelors, at least one advanced degree, and many of us also have a Juris Doctorate.

    And for working 24/7, trust me, Marketing doesn't have a monopoly on being asked for things at 2:00 AM that have to "be on my desk" at 8:00 AM. All law firm departments get those requests.

  • I think the Library is a much more valuable resource when it supports all aspects of a firm's operations, from operations to clients, without favor. Placing the library under the umbrella of a specific department, such as Marketing or IT, sends the message that the firm values their services in that context greater than that of their primary mission. As for the ROI concern, I believe that it is very simple to show ROI for the library outside the usual billing numbers. Billings for new clients acquired with the aid of the library staff, streamlining technical implimentations with their unique view of the needs of the end users, the knowledge of the vendors that result on contract savings and the assistance with cost recovery all results in a Return for the firm that doesn't favor one particular department or function.

    By the way, I agree with Jim and think the MoFo website may be an excellent example of what not to do.

  • Anonymous

    Greg…I 100% agree with your post. I would take it one step further and say that library director positions will no longer be around in a few years. Most "old school" directors are not being replaced as they retire, and it seems as if branch managers reporting up to a CIO (or some other C-level) is the preferred structure.

    For whatever reason, firms have not seen fit to elevate librarians to C-levels, except in a few rare cases. Is this due to individual personalities? The stigmas associated with the word "librarian"? The fact that this is a mostly female profession? I don't know, but is like a HUGE meteor heading towards us, and we aren't doing a darned thing about it.

  • Nofo to Mofo!

    I wouldn't want to be part of marketing department that still allows the firm to be called MOFO at all!

  • Ellen

    Librarians were allowed to take charge when there was a dearth of other educated administrators to handle information functions. As the money and opportunities increased, librarians' territory expanded and overlapped with other departments, but now we seem to have lost the power grab. The sad part is that a high-functioning library is a money-saver to clients, but libraries are often portrayed as money pits. Firms need librarians to control research costs, quality and risk; I think this is where we should put our efforts.

  • Anonymous

    It's not a Juris Doctorate. It's a Juris Doctor.

  • Thanks Anonymous. Juris Doctor… my bad. (dang, I really need an editor!!)

  • Anonymous

    As a middle library manager in a UK Biglaw firm I'd agree that the generation of managers that retired from their posts 5-10 years ago failed big time to see the inexorable rise of Marketing / Business Development and made no noticeable attempts to raise the profiles of their teams amongst the partners that matter (rather than the nice ones that popped in to the library for a chat and a newspaper every now and then). The situation means that new Librarians joining the legal profession land in an environment where the Marketing guys have firmly secured themselves at the top of the pecking order (often along with IT departments that emphasise the T over the I) and don't know / cannot think of how things could improve. We all have to accept that we are a support service, but in the UK law firm Libraries are sorely lacking in leadership and power at the top table.

  • Anonymous

    I don't understand what the issue is! The traditional library tasks are slowly dying and the law library of the future will have to re-invent itself and prove worth to the firm. Records Management, Knowledge Management is where this job is going. We have to stop looking at ourselves in the "traditional" library setting and move and embrace the future. The online world is encroaching and instead of running away from it we should be embracing it!